Editor's Choice

"In Jesus, God has taken the initiative to seek out the sinner, to bring the lost into the blessing of his reign."


George Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament
"Jesus' message of the Kingdom proclaimed that God not only will finally act, but that God was now again acting redemptively in history. In fact, God had entered into history in a way and to a degree not known by the prophets. The fulfillment of the Old Testament promises was taking place; the messianic salvation was present; the Kingdom of God had come near. God was visiting his people. In Jesus, God has taken the initiative to seek out the sinner, to bring the lost into the blessing of his reign. He was, in short, the seeking God... God is seeking out sinners and inviting them to submit themselves to his reign that he might be their Father. An inseparable relationship exists between the Kingdom of God and his Fatherhood; and it is particularly notable that this affinity between the two concepts appears most frequently in an eschatological setting. In the eschatological salvation, the righteous will enter into the Kingdom of their Father (Mt. 13:43). It is the Father who has prepared for the blessed their eschatological inheritance of the Kingdom (Mt. 25:34). It is the Father who will bestow upon Jesus' disciples the gift of the Kingdom (Lk. 12:32)."- George Eldon Ladd

The God of the Kingdom

The dynamic understanding of the basileia tou theou ("kingdom of God") has been drawn first from a linguistic and exegetical study of the meaning and use of the term itself. This dynamic interpretation is further illustrated by the theology of the Gospels, strictly speaking, i.e., by their doctrine of God.

The Kingdom is God's Kingdom, not humanity's: basileia tou theou. The emphasis falls on the third word, not the first; it is the Kingdom of God."The fact with which we have to reckon at all times is that in the teaching of Jesus his conception of God determines everything, including the conceptions of the Kingdom and the Messiah."[1] If the Kingdom is the rule of God, then every aspect of the Kingdom must be derived from the character and action of God. The presence of the Kingdom is to be understood from the nature of God's present activity; and the future of the Kingdom is the redemptive manifestation of his kingly rule at the end of the age.

This was also true in Judaism. God's Kingdom was God's overall sovereign rule. He never ceased to be the God whose kingly providence ultimately superintended all existence. Furthermore, God's rule could always and everywhere be known through the Law; and God would act to establish his Kingdom at the end of the age. Jesus' proclamation of the presence of the Kingdom means that God has become receptively active in history on behalf of his people. This does not empty the eschatological aspect of the Kingdom of its content, for God who was acting in history in the person and mission of Jesus will again act at the end of the age to manifest his glory and saving power. Both the present and future display God's Kingdom, for both present and future are the scene of the redemptive acting of God.

The Seeking God

This thesis is supported by a study of the particular concept of God found in Jesus' teachings. Here we find a striking fact: the novel element in Jesus' proclamation of the Kingdom is paralleled by a new element in his teaching about God, namely, that God is the seeking God. We do not mean to suggest that it was Jesus' purport to impart a new theoretical truth about God. God is one who is to be experienced, not a teaching to be imparted. This does not exclude the question of what concept of God is reflected in and through Jesus' teaching and ministry. In one sense the God of Judaism was not the God of the Old Testament. The God of the prophets was constantly active in history both to judge and save his people; the God of Judaism had withdrawn from the evil world and was no longer redemptively working in history.[2] One final redemptive act was expected at the end of the age; but meanwhile God stood aloof from history.

Jesus' message of the Kingdom proclaimed that God not only will finally act, but that God was now again acting redemptively in history. In fact, God had entered into history in a way and to a degree not known by the prophets. The fulfillment of the Old Testament promises was taking place; the messianic salvation was present; the Kingdom of God had come near. God was visiting his people. In Jesus, God has taken the initiative to seek out the sinner, to bring the lost into the blessing of his reign. He was, in short, the seeking God.

Some authors interpret Jesus' view of the Kingdom along the lines of rabbinic thought, except that the role of the Law is replaced by Jesus' religious experience. The heart of the Kingdom of God was Jesus' inner experience of God as Father. His mission was to share this experience with men and women. As people enter into Jesus' experience of God, the Kingdom of God, his rule," comes"to them. As increasingly large circles of people enter into this experience, God's Kingdom grows and is extended in the world. [3]

While there is an important element in this interpretation that must be preserved, it is inadequate because it overlooks the dynamic character of the Kingdom of God. At the very heart of our Lord's message and mission was embodied the reality of God as seeking love. God was no longer waiting for the lost to forsake their sins; God was seeking out the sinner.

The fact was embodied in Jesus' own mission. When he was criticized by the Pharisees for violating their standards of righteousness and associating with the sinners, he replied that it was his mission to minister to sinners (Mk. 2:15-17). It was those who know they are sick who need a physician. Jesus must bring the saving good news of the Kingdom to such sinners. He does not deny that they are sinners, nor does he make light of their guilt. Rather he points to their need and ministers it.

Jewish scholars admit that this concern for the sinner was something new. Abraham insists that Pharisaism taught that God was always ready to take the first step; yet he admits that the initiative was usually left to the sinner to turn to God.[4] Montefiore recognizes that the"greatness and originality"of Jesus opened"A new chapter in men's attitudes towards sin and sinners"because he sought out sinners rather than avoiding them.[5]...

The Inviting God

The God who seeks is also the God who invites. Jesus pictured the eschatological salvation in terms of a banquet or feast to which many guests were invited (Mt. 22:1ff.; Lk. 14:16ff.; cf. Mt. 8:11)...

Jesus called people to repentance, but the summons was also an invitation. In fact, the character of Jesus' summons to repentance as invitation sets his call apart from the Jewish teaching...

Jesus' demand for repentance was not merely a summons to men and women to forsake their sins and to turn to God; it was rather a call to respond to the divine invitation and was conditioned by this invitation, which was itself nothing less than a gift of God's Kingdom. This distinguished Jesus' call to repentance from that of John the Baptist. John called upon people to forsake their sins in view of the coming day of judgment; Jesus called on them to accept an invitation.[10]

Jesus' message of the Kingdom of God is the announcement by word and deed that God is acting and manifesting dynamically his redemptive will in history. God is seeking out sinners; he is inviting them to enter into the messianic blessing; he is demanding of them a favorable response to his gracious offer. God has again spoken. A new prophet has appeared, indeed one who is more than a prophet, one who brings to people the very blessings he promises.

The Fatherly God

God is seeking out sinners and inviting them to submit themselves to his reign that he might be their Father. An inseparable relationship exists between the Kingdom of God and his Fatherhood; and it is particularly notable that this affinity between the two concepts appears most frequently in an eschatological setting. In the eschatological salvation, the righteous will enter into the Kingdom of their Father (Mt. 13:43). It is the Father who has prepared for the blessed their eschatological inheritance of the Kingdom (Mt. 25:34). It is the Father who will bestow upon Jesus' disciples the gift of the Kingdom (Lk. 12:32). The highest gift of God's Fatherhood is participation in God's sovereignty, which is to be exercised over all the world. In that day Jesus will enjoy a renewed fellowship with his disciples in the Father's Kingdom (Mt. 26:29). Since the greatest joy of children of God is that of sharing the blessings of the Kingdom, Jesus taught his disciples to pray," Our Father who art in heaven .. thy Kingdom come" (Mt. 6:9, 10). Clearly kingship and Fatherhood are closely related concepts. [11]

The eschatological saying illustrate one important fact about God's Fatherhood. It is a blessing and a relationship that cannot be enjoyed by all people but only by those who enter the eschatological Kingdom. The concept of Fatherhood is qualified by that of the Kingdom. It is as the Father that God will grant women and men entrance into the eschatological Kingdom; and it follows that those who do not enter that Kingdom will not enjoy the relationship to God as their Father.

George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament
Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993, pgs. 79-83

Notes:
1. T.W. Manson, The Teaching of Jesus (1935), 211
2. See the essay by W. G. Kummel in Judaica 1 (1945), 40-68. Bultmann's way of expressing this same phenomena is"The God of the future is not really God of the present" (Jesus and the World [1934], 148).
3. Cf. H. E. W. Turner, Jesus Master and Lord (1953), 256-60.
4. I. Abrahams, Studies in Phaisaism and the Gospels (First Series, 1917), 58.
5. C. G. Montefiore, The Synoptic Gospels (1927), 1:55. The validity of Montefiore's observation stands even though his view that Jesus looked upon these sinners as the children of God is to be questioned. It is not because people are God's children that Jesus sought out the sinner, but because God would make them his children.
10. See G. Bornkamm, Jesus of Nazareth, 82f.
11. G. Schrenk, TDNT 5:995.




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